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Northeastern California plateaus bioregion science synthesis

December, 2016 to May, 2020

Scientists are continually learning and gaining new understanding of the natural processes that affect ecosystems, how humans influence ecosystems, and the ways that society values what ecosystems provide. Since the last forest plans for the Lassen and Modoc National Forests were written, much new information has been discovered. Combining these discoveries into a single document, commonly referred to as “a synthesis,” requires reviewing the best available scientific information. The goal of the science synthesis is to take the findings from the full body of relevant science within a topic area (defined and refined by input from the public, tribes, and forest staffs) and combine it into a current, concise, comprehensive, and coherent overview that can be more readily interpreted by forest staffs and stakeholders, and used by land managers during the forest plan process. While science syntheses focus mainly on broad, widely-accepted and applicable concepts, this synthesis also sought and highlighted research conducted on the Lassen and Modoc. The science synthesis is the knowledge foundation necessary for revising the forest plans of the Lassen and Modoc and is required by the 2012 Planning Rule. The science team includes scientists from the Rocky Mountain, Pacific Northwest, and Pacific Southwest research stations. 


Fall colors in Granger Canyon, MOdoc National Forest
Fall colors in the Granger Canyon, Modoc National Forest. Given the importance of recreation on our National Forests, managing scenic diversity is an important component of resource decision making (photo by Ken Sandusky, Forest Service).
A Black Backed woodpecker perches on the bole of a tree.
Black-backed woodpeckers are one of the representative species of the dry, pine forests characteristic of the northeastern California plateaus region and included in the synthesis. Photo by Martin Tarby
The Plateaus Science Synthesis is organized into six sections (each with one or more chapters) that correspond with the major topic areas defined through an initial public workshop. After the Introduction, the second section, Forestland, has a single chapter devoted to understanding and managing the dry, conifer forests of the Lassen and Modoc. It begins with a broad discussion about the potential impacts of drought on western forestlands, and then focuses in on different forest management tenets. The chapter will include specific discussion on ponderosa pine ecology, history, and how those forests can benefit from silviculture, and concludes with discussion about the ecology and management of juniper-dominated forestlands.

The third section, Rangeland, consists of four chapters. The first chapter will briefly describe the history and perceptions associated with rangeland management. The second chapter will focus on the interactions of climate change, grazing, and carbon storage on rangelands; the response of native plant, especially those dominated by annual invasive grasses, to grazing; meeting management objectives; and a broad look at restoring sagebrush ecosystems. The third chapter will review threats (and management responses) to the sagebrush ecosystem, including invasive weeds, vehicles, fire, and conifer encroachment. The fourth chapter will examine the biological soil crusts, particularly ecology, threats, and restoration.

The fourth section, Habitat and Wildlife, consists of three chapters. The first chapter will examine biodiversity of dry, pine forests, from fungi to herbaceous plants to invertebrates to three representative species of this habitat: black-backed woodpecker, flammulated owl, and gray wolf. The second chapter will focus on aquatic ecosystems, including lakes, vernal pools, fens, and swales. The final chapter will take a broad look at sagebrush rangelands and then focus on greater sage-grouse because some view the health of this species as an indicator of overall sagebrush ecosystem health.

Society is the topic of the fifth section. Given that the major focal point of new forests plans is socioecological resilience, it is not surprising that the single chapter in this section will be robust, having four main divisions: demographic trends, ecosystem services, community engagement, and tribes and culture. Demographic trends will look at current and expected changes in rural demographics and the impacts of prisons on local communities and the decision-making process. Ecosystem services will examine the social benefits provided by ecosystems, the economic benefits of these services, and societal inputs into resource management. The third division, community engagement, will hone in on how communities can participate in natural resource management and use that engagement to resolve conflict. How tribes value place, interact with managers, and use fire management will be the focus of the last division.

Salvaging logging of the Frog Fire
Salvage logging, such as this operation following the Frog Fire on the Modoc National Forest, can provide economic value to local communities. Scenarios balancing economic value with other ecosystem services, such as habitat for wildlife, could be discuss

Responding to Disturbances is the final section. Its single chapter takes a broad look at various factors that are currently, or may in the future, affect these ecosystems, how a changing climate interacts with those disturbances, and what possible management techniques could be considered to mitigate disturbances.

The science team delivered the draft Northeastern California Plateaus Bioregion Science Synthesis in early February 2019. The document was revised considering public comment. It was peer-reviewed by independent and Forest Service scientists. The final report was issued in June 2020 and is available here: Northeastern California Plateaus Bioregion Science Sythesis (Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-409). More information about the synthesis is available at the Lassen and Modoc National Forests Science Synthesis website.



Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Pamela Padgett - Pacific Southwest Research Station
Jessica Wright - Pacific Southwest Research Station

Funding Contributors:
Forest Service - Region 5 - National Forest System